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The words of Ted Harbin, winner of the 2010 PRCA Media Award for Excellence in Print Journalism
Updated: 1 hour 46 sec ago

Durfey is a true cowboy

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 12:16

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written for Tyson Durfey and submitted to Rodeo Athletes, an online magazine. Check out the website’s coverage filled with photos. I am publishing it here to celebrate Tyson’s birthday. Happy Thanksgiving to all you true cowboys and cowgirls, whether it’s because you rope and ride or because you’ve always dreamed of being one.

 

Long before he won three Canadian championships and qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo seven times, Tyson Durfey dreamed of being and rodeo cowboy

“As a kid, I was surrounded by cowboys,” said Durfey, who burst onto the rodeo scene by becoming the first American-born contestant to win a Canadian Professional Rodeo Association title when he earned the championship in 2006. “My dad was a cowboy, my grandfather was a cowboy and my brothers were cowboys. All I wanted was to be a cowboy.”

Durfey looked up to all the cowboys in his life. There were many. His father, Roy, is recognized in rodeo circles as one of the elite trainers of tie-down roping horses and calf ropers. It’s a craft he continues to practice on his land just outside of Savannah, Mo., in the state’s northwestern corner.

It’s in those rolling hills that 4-year-old Tyson Durfey would ride his pony alongside his father and hear the stories of true cowboys. He learned that Jesse James had ridden through the same brush, and he learned all the fine details of being a cowboy: Riding horses is just one thing; cowboys needed to know what it meant to stand up for people who needed it and to live by a strong moral code.

Tyson Durfey

Tyson Durfey

“One thing I still hold onto today is that when I give someone my word, that’s as good as anything I can give them and that I will stand by it,” he said. “For my dad, it was a way for him to babysit me. For me, it was a lifestyle. It was something I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life.”

He watched deer bound across corn fields and cattle feast on grain. He hunted rabbits and squirrels and held tightly those ideals that had been passed along to him through the generations and in his own imagination.

Part of that is being the son of Roy Durfey. Part of it is having two older brothers who also were cowboys and talented ropers. Wes is the oldest, 10 years older than Tyson. Travis is in the middle, five years removed from both siblings.

That was an amazing influence on Tyson, who has taken the competitive edge further than anyone in the family. He won Canadian titles in 2006, ’08 and 2011, and this December will compete at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the seventh time in eight years.

But his influences are deeper than that. Tyson Durfey recalls watching greats like Joe Beaver and Troy Pruitt inside his home, taking those same lessons he was receiving. He saw the biggest names in the game compete on his father’s horses.

“At a young age, we were at the American Royal in Kansas City, and I was sitting on a horse and saw Fred Whitfield there,” Durfey said. “I had always heard my dad talking about him. Then all of the sudden, Fred Whitfield was walking over to me, this little redheaded kid sitting on a huge horse.

“He stuck his hand up to mine to shake it. It was a massive hand. He looked at me with a really serious look on his face and asked me if I was going to be good. I just nodded my head and said, ‘Yes, sir.’ That was my first chance to meet Fred Whitfield, but it stuck with me all my life.”

Each meeting became a huge blessing and further fueled Durfey’s fire. That ignition switch has paid plenty of dividends over his 31 years. In 2001 and ’02, he earned the Missouri High School Rodeo Association tie-down roping championship. Shortly afterward, he set out on his career in ProRodeo.

Along the way, he has racked up more than a million dollars in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association earnings. That doesn’t include the cash he’s earned north of the border, nor money earned at countless jackpots, amateur rodeos and that cool $100,000 prize he earned earlier this year by winning RFD-TV’s The American.

As a redheaded youngster, he learned the lessons of great horses and what it takes to ride them correctly through each run. He got a front-row seat as Roy Durfey made his name as one of the greatest calf-roping horsemen in the game.

“I wanted to make my name competing, winning,” Tyson Durfey said. “I believe in the horsemanship, and I feel like I’m a work in progress. I continue to work on it every day. If you get to where you think you’re good, then you’re not going to work at getting better. That’s what keeps all of us involved in the sport. It’s a never-ending story that keeps getting rewritten.”

Like any good novel, Durfey’s story line has changed over the years. He was just 23 years old when he won that first Canadian buckle, just 24 when he played in Las Vegas for the first time. Though he called his 10-night run at the NFR a struggle that year, he learned a lot.

“If you would’ve told me in 2006 that I would’ve finished in the top 15 in the world, I would’ve been ecstatic, but instead, I felt like 2007 was a huge letdown,” he said. “I felt a lot of pressure that first year. I was so young and was so structured in the way I did things. I didn’t realize that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

“I just wanted to win and beat them, but at the end of the day, it boils down to being the best person you can be and doing the best you can do every time. I was more focused on trying to win than I was at trying to be the best I could be at the rodeo.”

Durfey’s second NFR went much better. He won a go-round and placed in five others. Most importantly, he finished second in the average. In 2009, he finished third in the 10-run aggregate while placing in seven rounds. He moved up nine spots to finish third in the final world standings. That is his best finish to date.

“The thing about Las Vegas is you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You can look at everything and expect someone to have a great finals, and it just doesn’t work out that way.”

Those are the ups and downs of being a professional cowboy. Durfey knows the rodeo roller coaster is filled with equal parts queasiness and thrills, whether the ride is in Las Vegas or near the Washington coast.

When he first started making a name for himself, Tyson Durfey traveled the rodeo trail in a stock trailer hauling a borrowed horse.

“Half that year, I slept in the back of my truck,” he said.

Much has changed along his roller-coaster ride. A little more than a year ago, he married Australian-born country singer Shea Fisher, and the couple took its honeymoon shortly after the 2013 NFR. He finds great comfort in having a great home life, despite the gypsy lifestyle that comes with being a rodeo cowboy.

“My life has changed astronomically since I first got started,” Durfey said. “I’m married now, I have my own house, my own place, my own indoor arena. I’ve been extremely blessed. I feel more grounded, more down to earth.”

That comfort has enabled Durfey to live the life he always has dreamed about. He’s a rodeo cowboy, just like his heroes. He has sponsors who not only support him but appreciate that he’s the perfect identity for their brands.

He’s built his reputation through hard work, God-given talent and integrity. It has allowed Tyson Durfey many blessings throughout an already distinguished career. It’s allowed him to chase his gold-buckle dreams, ride fast horses and compete on his sport’s biggest stages every year.

It sounds like an amazing country song, most likely performed by Shea Fisher, who has fallen in love with a redheaded rodeo cowboy that is just carrying on a family legacy.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Smith focused, ready for the NFR

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 17:20

REXBURG, Idaho – When Wyatt Smith looks back at 2014, he points to a certain moment as the turning point and a key reason as to why he qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

“San Antonio was a huge boost for me,” said Smith, who won the steer wrestling title in San Antonio this past February. “I got a lot of confidence from that, and I was able to stay very consistent through the year.”

It paid off. Smith pocketed $57,188 through the regular season, which ran through the end of September. He heads to Las Vegas next week as the 13th ranked bulldogger – only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to compete for the biggest pay in the game. Go-round winners will earn $19,000 each night for 10 nights.

Wyatt Smith

Wyatt Smith

“It still hasn’t really set in; all I’m doing is living out a dream,” said Smith, 26, of Rexburg, Idaho.

The dream started two decades ago as a youngster in a rodeo family. His father, Lynn, and mother, Valorie, provided the tools for Wyatt and his younger brother, Garrett.

“Rodeo is a lifestyle,” Wyatt Smith said. “My family is the big boost in every way that they can, from helping me take care of horses all the time to helping take care of everything when I’m gone. Everything we do is rodeo, rodeo, rodeo.

“My mom helps me a lot with goal-setting. It would help me keep my focus and drive and take care of practice and everything else. When school was out, I was saddling horses, and we were practicing. My dad had everything ready for us when we needed.”

That type of support means everything to Smith, who also won event titles in Evanston, Wyo., and Salt Lake City.

“There’s never a negative moment in our house,” he said. “We were just a little small family from Rexburg, Idaho. I’ve always had that positive influence and the push and drive.”

That influence and a true passion has been a guiding force for Smith, who won both the National High School Rodeo Association and the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association championships in the all-around and steer wrestling. A big part of that was the dedication he had to getting better.

“When I was younger, my idol was Ty Murray,” Smith said of the nine-time world champion. “He did lots of gymnastics, learning to use his body and control his body. He was one of the greatest and a legend. If he was doing it, I wanted to learn.

“It was just a way to stay in shape and keep the flexibility and control in my body.”

It seems to have worked well for Smith, who began competing in ProRodeo in 2008. He has finished among the top 55 cowboys in the world standings each of the previous three years, but his run in 2014 is his best so far.

Through all the greatness that came his way over the last 12 months, there was one major challenge. In mid-May, he lost his main partner, a 14-year-old gelding he called Short Bus.

“It was dang sure tough,” Smith said, his voice cracking. “When we travel around, it’s just just the traveling partners that become our family; our horses are, too. It’s how we make money and how we survive. Losing a good horse is tragic to a lot of things. I was just fortunate to have other horses to get on this year.”

Short Bus suffered a brain aneurism while Smith was at the rodeo in Ramona, Calif. The horse died just before Smith was to compete.

“That made it awful tough for the night,” he said. “I held it together to bulldog and haze a few steers, then I handed the horses off and headed to the truck. I was done for the night.”

That painful moment could have derailed everything Smith had worked for, but he viewed it more as a challenge to overcome. He knew there still was business ahead of him, so he tended to it, all while traveling with a team of steer wrestlers called “The Recking Crew”: Smith, Tom Lewis, Sean Santucci and Christin Radabaugh.

“What I like most about rodeo is the lifestyle,” he said. “We get to travel around the country and see different places. We get to go anywhere we want and get to do what we love. You set yourself up to be around great people all the time.”

Now he has the opportunity to ply his trade on rodeo’s grandest stage, the NFR.

“There are a lot of guys who could be at the finals right now that just didn’t have the luck,” Smith said. “There are so many bulldoggers out there that bulldog outstanding. It’s such a privilege to be one of the top 15 in the world and get to go to the finals.

“I’d love to win a round buckle. I want to go at it like I do at every rodeo I go to, and that’s to win as much money as I can.”

When the dust settles on the final night of the 2014 season, the contestants who have earned the most money in each event will earn the gold buckle awarded to the world champion.

“That would be outstanding and would be a lifelong achievement,” he said. “It is dang sure a possibility and is within reach if everything goes right. You’re always reaching for that, but in the back of your mind, you’re going to take each pen of steers one at a time.

“I don’t have to beat all the greats. I have to throw my steers down and let them play out the rest.”

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

‘Good Ol’ Gals Tell All’ about cowboys

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 16:44

LAS VEGAS – Terri Powers thinks there are more pertinent story lines about the Western lifestyle than most books written on the subject portray.

“When I decided to write books for the rodeo crowd, I saw that most cowboy books out there are either historical, old-timey stuff or Western romance novels,” said Powers, an author from Albuquerque, N.M. “Instead, I want to do entertaining books that are more relevant to today’s cowboy.”

She’s done it so far. Powers wrote Gold Buckles Don’t Lie, the Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield, which was released in 2013. It’s been quite a success, especially among rodeo fans that have followed the career of Whitfield, an eight-time world champion calf roper and pro rodeo’s most decorated African-American cowboy.

This December, Powers releases “Cowboy Tails, Good Ol’ Gals Tell All,” a collection of short stories from women who have loved cowboys “to varying degrees of success.” She will be in Las Vegas from Dec. 5-14 for signings and appearances during the upcoming National Finals Rodeo.

“The book is based on my decision at 8 years old to never marry a cowboy,” Powers said. “I remember being quite certain, even as a little kid, that I didn’t want to end up with a cowboy.”

It’s something she never thought about again until writing Whitfield’s story.

“It was then that I realized there are some really awesome women out there who would not have anything but a cowboy,” she said. “I wondered what they knew that I didn’t, and Cowboy Tails was born. Regardless of the specifics, I figured the women’s stories would be a good time, and they are.”

Rodeo life is nothing new to Powers, whose father designed and built rodeo equipment during the 1960s. Her older brother was a tie-down roper, and her son is a team roper. Having seen the heartbreak rodeo can bring, she was never interested in it herself.

“I have always loved horses and still do,” she said.

Though she wanted to remain tied to cowboys and the rodeo way of life, Powers wanted her second book to be as far removed from her first as she could get.

“Gold Buckles was about somebody; Cowboy Tails is about everybody,” Powers said. “I started with my friends, women that I knew had been with cowboys. Very early, I knew I was on to something, so I next took it to the cyber crowd and talked to woman all over the country. I listened to them tell of the perks and perils of life with a cowboy, then, at the end, I analyzed my decision based on their stories.”

And, oh, what stories.

“There are 43 chapters,” Powers said. “The majority of them are one woman telling one story in one chapter, however, there are three or four women with stories throughout the book, which is structured to follow the course of a woman’s life: The first ones, the last ones and all the ones in between.”

Powers interviewed every woman, most of whom remain anonymous.

“The only common thread among the woman was that they had loved a cowboy, so their stories are all over the map,” she said. “I heard stories about stereotypical ornery, rotten rodeo cowboys, as well as stories of men who made me proud to me an American. They were very funny, but also very heart-warming.”

There are stories from women through the generations.

“One of my favorite stories is from a woman whose father was a cowboy, but her mother was a city girl from San Diego who fell for all of his outlandish stories,” Powers said. “He once told her that cockleburs were porcupine embryos, and if you put them into the oven, they would hatch. She believed him.”

Bull riders really took a hit in this book, and Powers said there were some wild stories about them. While she wasn’t too surprised about the bull riders, Powers said she was surprised to hear about another side of often chauvinist cowboys.

“Many women talked about how their cowboys pushed them to do more than they ever thought they could,” she said. “I found that paradox interesting. These supposed chauvinists often had more faith in their women’s abilities than the women themselves had, and pushed them far beyond their comfort zone.”

Updated information on Las Vegas signings and appearances will be made on the book’s website, www.CowboyTails.com. Some of the storytellers will be with her periodically during the NFR.

So why is this the best time to release the book?

“I wanted to get the biggest start I could,” she said. “I think it will make an awesome Christmas gift. This book is angled toward women, but in the end, I think it appeals to everybody.”

She also will begin investigating her next book while in Las Vegas.

“The women have had their turn, but I think my next book will allow the cowboys to have their say,” Powers said. “I’ll be talking to as many cowboys as I can during this year’s NFR and have Cowboy Tails II ready to release at next year’s NFR.”

When the National Finals Rodeo heads to Las Vegas every December, 119 contestants will battle for the top prize money in the game. They bring with them hundreds of thousands of fans to the Nevada desert looking for stories of cowboys, cowgirls and the Western lifestyle.

Terri Powers has found a perfect niche with rodeo fans and plans to stay there for years to come.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Frost living a dream with NFR bid

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 15:09

RANDLETT, Utah – As a child, Joe Frost did what most kids do: He let his imagination take him anywhere it wanted to go.

Even then, his imagination carried Frost along the rodeo trail. It’s what he knew. It’s how he lived.

“We didn’t play football or baseball,” he said. “When we played, we pretended we were at the NFR. We based everything off rodeoing, winning go-rounds. We didn’t know anything else and didn’t want to do anything else.”

Childhood is about wonder and fascination. It’s about playing in the dirt and dreaming big dreams.

Joe Frost is living his dreams in rodeo. The 2014 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association bull riding champion will now carry his amazing season over to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s marquee event that takes place Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas.

Joe Frost

Joe Frost

“It’s something that’s been a goal and a plan for as long as I can remember,” said Frost, 22, of Randlett. “It’s everybody’s dream to ride at the national finals and to win a world title. You can’t win a world title without making it to the national finals.

“When you’re in youth rodeos and high school rodeos and college rodeos, you’re riding with that goal in mind. The films that everybody watches are from the NFR. That is the ultimate goal and the ultimate place to ride at.”

Frost earned his way to the game’s grand championship by winning $69,558 through the rigors of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association regular season. He is 11th in the world standings heading into Las Vegas, where he will battle for his share of the $6.375 million purse. Go-round winners will collect $19,000 each round for 10 nights.

But there’s so much more to Frost, who also competes in tie-down roping and steer wrestling when his schedule allows. In fact, the Utah cowboy earned the 2014 Linderman Award for excelling in both roughstock and timed events.

“I enter about 12 to 15 rodeos roping calves and steer wrestling and go to about 80 to 90 in bull riding,” he said. “I’m not consistently roping calves and steer wrestling, and it’s making it hard to be as competitive as I should be.

“In steer wrestling and calf roping, there are so many variables with your horse, drawing the animals you can win on and everything that goes with it. You can virtually not get on a practice bull all year long and still be sharp in bull riding just by competing.”

In addition to competing in ProRodeo, Frost is in the middle of his senior season at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in the small community of Goodwell, Okla. In 2013, he was one of the key members of the Panhandle State team that won the men’s college title. This past June, he rode all four bulls at the College National Finals Rodeo to claim the bull riding title.

He is the only contestant in this year’s NFR field of 119 contestants who has a chance to win the college title and the world title in the same year. The last time that was done was in 2007, when Panhandle State rodeo team alumnus Taos Muncy did so in saddle bronc riding, becoming just the third cowboy in PRCA history to have won both crowns in the same calendar year.

“When I first came to look at school, they have an office, and it’s Taos Muncy’s,” said Frost, who has sponsorship arrangements with Rodeo Mart and Wrangler. “(Coach) Craig Latham told me, ‘If you win the college title and the world title in the same year, we’ll build you an office.’ ”

That certainly was appealing to a young man looking toward his future, but there were several other reasons why he chose to move from the Utah mountains to the Plains of the Oklahoma Panhandle. He was offered an opportunity to grow as a cowboy and as a young man; both are vital for the Frost family: dad, Shane; mom, Lisa; brothers Josh, 19, and Jate, 13; and sister, Jacelyn, 10.

“College rodeo as allowed me to get an education,” he said. “Craig and Robert (Etbauer) have been really good with me to go to ProRodeos. It’s a huge priority for me to win the region team title. As much as I’d love to win the college bull riding title again, it would be more important for me to help win the team title again.”

While the team approach is amazing for college, Frost has individual goals for his inaugural visit to the NFR. He knows it’s going to take a lot of talent and a little luck for it all to come together, but that’s the way the bull riding bull bounces.

“My goal is to win the average and leave as the world champion,” Frost said. “My main goal is to ride 10 bulls one at a time. If I can keep my focus on my bull riding, then I need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented. I’m going to keep it simple and keep it about riding bulls, then everything else will take care of itself.”

That’s a brilliant outlook for such a young cowboy, but he was raised that way. Shane Frost rode bulls, then raised a family on their Utah ranch. He and Lisa’s four children have been involved in riding horses and ranching all their lives. Shane built an arena just feet from the front door of the house, and the kids have had every opportunity to ride, rope and wrestle.

“Our family life was based off ranching, and every night we were out there practicing,” Joe Frost said. “My family is really close. It’s important when we can be together.

“As far as my bull riding career, I’ve never been to a bull riding school. Being around my dad, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, he can relate it back to bull riding and rodeo. You need to have a good attitude.”

That has gone a long ways in making Joe Frost who he is. That’s why he’s going to the NFR in 2014. That’s why he’s 22 years old and already a champion.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Pierce returns to rodeo elite, NFR

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 12:02

EDMOND, Okla. – Carlee Pierce and her family needed a breather from the rigors of the rodeo trail.

The Oklahoma cowgirl took it.

That was in June 2013, when Pierce was the third-ranked cowgirl in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s barrel racing standings. Instead of chasing the world championship at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, she packed up her trailer and headed home.

Carlee Pierce

Carlee Pierce

“I took a break last year when I was on my way to a third consecutive NFR,” said Pierce, who was born in Alberta and raised in northwest Oklahoma. “I always said when my family was worn out with it, I’d stay home. After several months at home, everybody decided staying home and being ‘normal’ wasn’t exactly fun.

“This year I spent more time on the road with and without them with no expectations of making the NFR, so it turned into a successful year.”

Yes, it was. Pierce earned $90,431 through the regular season and heads to ProRodeo’s premier event next week No. 13 in the world standings – only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the right to compete at the NFR, set for Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas. Now she will take a shot at the biggest play in the game with a purse of $6.375 million; go-round winners will earn $19,000 per night for the 10-round affair.

But it meant more time away from her family: husband, Steve; son, Kale; and daughters, Makala and Jacy.

“The rodeo trail hasn’t changed,” Pierce said. “It’s still a lot of hours and a lot of driving. It doesn’t bother me as much when my family goes, but when they were at home, it seemed like I was gone for years.”

Still, she took advantage. She had key wins through the season and collected a lot of checks, but her biggest two victories came in Red Bluff, Calif., in April and Hermiston, Ore., in August. She won both rounds and the two-run average title at both, pocketing $5,442 in California and $8,247 in Oregon.

That money went a long ways to helping her reach the goal of returning to the NFR, where she has excelled. In her first appearance in 2011, Pierce raced to two round wins while placing in three others to win $50,769. A year later, she earned $79,802 and finished the 2012 campaign as the reserve world champion with $204,322.

“Sometimes I ask myself the question, ‘Why do I rodeo?’ ” said Pierce, who earlier this year moved her family from Stephenville, Texas, to Edmond, though the Pierces will keep their Texas ranch. “I guess it is a passion I have. I can’t go one day without thinking about it, and I feel like I am so far from accomplishing all my goals in rodeo.”

She will have another chance in the City of Lights, where she plans to ride a couple of young horses inside the Thomas & Mack Center.

“I am running both of my girls in Vegas,” she said. “Tiny is 5, and Lolo is 6. Both are pretty green in the rodeo world, but I have faith in them, and I know this is a good experience in preparation for the 2015 season. I am really excited about how talented they are.”

She will need all the talent the two sorrel mares can muster. The NFR field is loaded with NFR regulars like Kaley Bass, Lisa Lockhart and Christy Loflin, as well as world champions Mary Walker and Sherry Cervi, the latter of who owns four gold buckles.

“The NFR is always the best of the best,” Pierce said. “I know there are some amazing horses in that mix. It’s definitely going to be a great horserace.”

That’s the way it should be when the world title is on the line. Pierce is about $65,000 behind Bass, the world standings leader from Kissimmee, Fla., but she can make up that ground quickly in Las Vegas. With the payouts so high, the Oklahoma cowgirl can catch the leaders in just four rounds.

It will take a lot of talent and a little bit of luck, but Carlee Pierce is ready for it all.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Scheer ready for a run at the title

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 10:24

ELSMERE, Neb. – Cort Scheer is one of the best saddle bronc riders in ProRodeo.

He’s been one of the best for several years, and next week he heads to his fourth qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s premier event that takes place Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas.

“Every year you go into the finals feeling confident, but this is probably the most confident I’ve ever been going into it,” said Scheer, 28, of Elsmere.

He has reason to feel that way. Scheer is the No. 3 bronc rider in the world standings, having earned $102,413 through the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association regular season. He trails standings leader and two-time world champion Taos Muncy by a little more than $24,000.

“It’s awesome that we’re in that position,” Scheer said, referring to the fact that both he and Muncy were part of the rodeo team at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. “It all goes back to the practice pen when Taos and I and all those guys were getting on in a $10 jackpot.”

Each man who put his name in the hat ponied up $10, and the high-marked cowboy won the pot.

Cort Scheer

Cort Scheer

“Back in the day, all we wanted to do was win a $10 jackpot,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that we’re still going at each other. That’s the best opportunity in the world when you start off riding with the best. You aren’t just riding against anybody; you’re riding against the best in the world.

“Now instead of a $10 jackpot, you’re riding for $19,000 a round.”

The NFR is the perfect place to excel. It offers the largest purse in the game, $6.375 million, and features only the top 15 contestants in each event in the world standings. In rodeo, dollars equal points, and the contestant in each event who finishes the 2014 campaign with the most money is crowned world champion. It’s well within Scheer’s grasp.

“Doing so well at the Canadian Finals (Rodeo) helps a ton with my confidence,” said Scheer, who won the average title earlier this month in Edmonton, Alberta. I’m pretty excited.

“This is the best year I’ve ever had. I usually have a pretty good winter, and I did.”

He was rather consistent this season. He earned eight event titles this year, from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Pendleton, Ore. He also won the January rodeo in Denver.

“The win at Pendleton was probably the biggest one of the year and the most unique one,” he said. “I wasn’t even planning on going and didn’t think I had enough horse in the first round to make it back to the short round. I ended up going, and the horse was pretty good. In the short round, the only horse in the pen I didn’t know was the horse I had.”

It turned out to be just fine. Scheer scored 91 points on Four Star Rodeo’s Rounder to win the short round and the average title.

“Just to win in that arena in the grass and to be able to take the victory lap around the track there, it was awesome,” he said.

Scheer has won a lot in a career that began seven seasons ago. In addition to attending Panhandle State on a rodeo scholarship, he also was on the rodeo teams at Garden City (Kan.) Community College and Montana State University. He first qualified for the NFR in 2010, then missed the next season after suffering a knee injury – he still finished 2011 among the top 25 in the world. He has returned to Las Vegas every year since.

“If you don’t have momentum, you don’t have consistency or confidence,” said Scheer, who was raised on the Nebraska sandhills, the youngest of three children born to Kevin and Pam Scheer. “When you get that on your side, it dang sure helps you. When a guy is confident, you feel like you can’t do anything wrong.”

He hasn’t been on a bronc since the final round of the Canadian Finals on Nov. 9, but he’s has a bit of a swagger after his successful run.

“I think the timing of it is big because it’s just before the NFR,” he said. “It’s also the format of it, the horses and the caliber of the cowboys. Most of those horses will be at the finals.

“My whole mindset was moving on to the next one. No matter how I did, I put it behind me and moved on to the next one. Now it’s been on the NFR. My saddle feels great, and I feel great. Ninety percent of bronc riding is mental. I’m real confident in my saddle, real confident in myself. I’ve also been staying in good shape.”

The past few weeks have been vital for Scheer, who has spent virtually all of it at his Nebraska home. He helps his dad and brother, Clete, on the ranch every day. That type of manual labor is good for the mind and the body. Now he has his sights set firmly on the Nevada desert, where he hopes to take a step up from a solid 2013 NFR – he was one of only two men to ride all 10 broncs, finishing second in the average.

“I learned a lot from last year,” Scheer said. “I felt like I could ride better than I did in a lot of those rounds. You learn from those mistakes. You always want to be at the top of the food chain. It looked like I was riding for the average in the end.

“I’d rather be known for a guy who rides for the rounds and not for the average. I might as well be 85 instead of 75. Sure it’s a confidence booster you can ride them, but you just have to better yourself in the end.”

That’s a solid approach by the humble cowboy. It’s the reason he has been so victorious this year and why he’s one of the elite bronc riders in the game.

It’s why he’ll battle for the world title.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Champion living up to his name

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 16:11

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Richmond Champion lives life a little bit on the edge.

Why else would any sane man strap himself to a 1,100-pound bucking horse in order to make a living?

“You’ve got every wild and free thing in the palm of your hand,” said Champion, 21, of The Woodlands. “It’s awesome. There’s nothing like it. I just crave it. It’s the best job in the world. You have to feel it to understand it.”

Champion is a professional rodeo cowboy, one of the very best bareback riders in the game in 2014. Next week, he will showcase it to the world during his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s premier championship event that takes place Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas. It’s the perfect place to put a defining exclamation point to an incredible season.

He is the seventh-ranked bareback rider in the world standings, where points equal dollars earned in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association through the rigors of the 12-month season. Champion has pocketed just shy of $90,000 in the PRCA, but his season has provided much more than that.

Richmond Champion

Richmond Champion

“My biggest win, obviously, was The American,” he said of the non-PRCA rodeo that took place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where he won the bareback riding title and $1.1 million. “That’s the biggest victory ever. The American changed my whole life and how I want to go about my career.

“Following that, I’d have to say winning Cheyenne (Wyo.) and being 91 points at the Daddy of ’Em All. Just the way that story unfolded … for different reasons, that was the biggest PRCA win of my career.”

The win in Arlington came in early March; the victory in Cheyenne came in late July. Mixed in between was a fine recipe of quality rides and key titles: Guymon, Okla.; Walla Walla, Wash.; and Gladewater, Texas, just to name a few.

“This season has been a dream come true,” said Champion, who as a collegian at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in June. “Making the NFR is a goal reached. It’s kind of surreal knowing I’m heading there. I’m really excited.

“It’s the freakin’ NFR. There’s no downplaying that. It’s going to be a stage I’ve never been on before. It’s going to be intense.”

Only the top 15 cowboys in each event earn the right to compete for the biggest pay in the game. The purse is more than $6 million for the 10-round finale. Each night, contestants will battle for the $19,000 payday for winning a go-round. The elite bareback riders will be testing their skills against the greatest bucking horses of 2014.

As an NFR rookie, Champion will also be in the field with legends: three-time reigning world champion Kaycee Feild, three-time titlist Will Lowe, four-time winner Bobby Mote and 2008 world champ Justin McDaniel – they own the last nine bareback riding gold buckles.

“I’m not going to worry about Kaycee Feild or anybody else,” Champion said. “Kaycee’s going to do what Kaycee’s going to do, and I have no doubt it’s going to be at a phenomenal level. I set my goals high, and I’m going in there confident.”

He should. He has qualified for the NFR in just his third season as a PRCA member – he finished 2012 in second place in the rookie-of-the-year race. That’s not too bad for a man who has only been riding bucking horses less than five years.

“I’ve always been involved in something competitive, whether it was skiing or riding,” he said. “I had an older brother, and you just naturally grow up in a competitive nature. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’re going to be competitive with each other.

“We also moved around a lot. Once I got comfortable somewhere, it was time to move again and start over. I think that’s what attracted me to rodeo. You’re constantly moving. You’re constantly competing. Growing up that way, you have to adapt. I bring that with me when I’m rodeoing.”

The rodeo trail is long and winding. Cowboys travel tens of thousands of miles a year chasing their gold-buckle dreams. Oftentimes they’re away from home for weeks, even months, at a time. It’s not an easy life, but it’s one in which the competitors are following their passions.

For Champion, he finds ease in the support from home.

“My family has been there for me since I started this deal,” he said, pointing to his dad, Greg, and mom, Lori. “Mom had her questions at first; she didn’t want me to get hurt. They’ve just been so supportive of me since my rookie year. My brother, Doug, is the reason I started riding bareback horses. He turned out to be one of my biggest supporters. He got hurt and can’t ride anymore, but he’s been right there with me.

“My family has made a point to travel to come see me. They know being there is important to me. I can’t do it without them. They’ve all made changes since The American has happened. My dad has taken a lot of responsibility for me on the financial side.”

That has helped take the pressure off the young cowboy so he can focus on the task at hand. When he needs an ear, they all are just a phone call away. Doug can help with the riding side of the game, while Mom and Dad do what moms and dads do.

“They’re all successful, but they’ve found a way to support me,” Champion said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

When family isn’t available, he leaned on girlfriend Shelby Smith, who has been around the sport all her life.

“It’s a lot harder to have a relationship in rodeo, but she understands that,” Champion said. “It took this year for me to realize what it takes to have a relationship out there on the road. Your time gets limited. To have Shelby out there with me from time to time, it helps because she comes from a rodeo family. She knows how it works.

“She’s been competitive, so she can help me. She may not know the fundamentals of bareback riding, but as a competitor, she knows how to talk to me. She’s always been there for that.”

That support has been a key ingredient into the success the cowboy has seen in 2014. Of course, that also is the nature of rodeo, where there are friends at every stop along the rodeo trail.

“The best part of rodeo is the comradery,” he said. “There’s no other sport that is this tight-knit. We’re all ready to do anything for one another even though you’re trying to take each other’s money at the same time. It’s a really competitive sport, but you still try to help each other out.

“You can’t get there by yourself, and everybody knows that.”

Now that he’s there, the Texan won’t rest on his accomplishments or his bank account. He has a core group of friends, family and fellow bareback riders to keep him humble. He’s still young enough to crave all-night drives, but that’s mainly because he craves the most coveted prize in the game, the gold buckle.

He is a Champion after all.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Rodeo passion leads Bennett to NFR

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 14:48

MORGAN, Utah – The reason Caleb Bennett loves rodeo is very simple.

“The rodeo atmosphere is me,” said Bennett, a bareback rider from Morgan. “It’s like whiskey to a drunk or poker to a gambler; it’s just something you’ve got to have.

“I love it. I love traveling. I love 10-hour drives with buddies, and I love getting on bucking horses when I get there.”

That passion has carried the 26-year-old cowboy to his third straight qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s year-end championship set for Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas. Only the top 15 contestants from the regular season in each event advance to the 10-round finale, which offers the greatest payout in the game, $6.375 million.

Caleb Bennett

Caleb Bennett

The combatants will all battle for the $19,000 payday during each go-round over 10 December nights in southern Nevada, and the contestants with the most money earned at its conclusion will be crowned world champions. Through the regular season, Bennett pocketed $85,225 and will arrive in Sin City next week No. 8 in the bareback riding world standings.

“Everyone starts the year with the goal of making it to the NFR,” said Bennett, who earned nearly $64,000 last December. “This is how we make our living, so it’s a huge goal.”

The Utah cowboy heads to the finals after his best regular season. He had nine Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association titles in 2014, including wins in Rapid City, S.D.; Clovis, Calif.; Pendleton, Ore.; and the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo.

“Winning the national championship was awesome,” he said of the April rodeo in which he won a boatload of cash and a voucher toward the purchase of a Ram pickup. “That’s always been a goal of mine to go to the Ram finals and win that, and this was only my second year of qualifying for that.

“It’s just another stepping stone and what I want to accomplish in my career.”

His year was solid from start to finish, and that helped him find a comfort zone to this year’s NFR. That’s quite a change from 2013, when he had to finish with a flourish in order to qualify in the 15th and last spot.

“I had a great season, and I tried to plan things differently this year,” Bennett said. “I tried to set up my winter runs by hitting the bigger, better rodeos and taking advantage of that. All summer long I entered like that. I tried to enter smarter instead of by quantity.

“I won more money this year than I had either year before when I qualified. That really made the month of September a lot easier on me. I could go to the bigger ones and relax a little bit and not have to worry about making it.”

That pressure-valve rele3ase paid off in Pendleton, one of the biggest and most historic events in ProRodeo. He rode Sankey Rodeo’s Thunder Monkey for 87 points to win the short go-round and share the average championship with fellow NFR qualifier Tim O’Connell.

“That’s a world-renowned rodeo that everybody wants to win,” said Bennett, who competed on the rodeo team at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, after a stellar career that saw him win the 2007 National High School Finals Rodeo bareback riding title in one of his four qualifications. “I’d never made the short round before, then I snuck in and happened to draw the best horse.”

Of course, nothing comes without assistance. He gets plenty of support from his family; his father, Bob Caldwell, rode bucking horses and continues to compete in team roping; his mother, Claudine, has always been around barrel racing. Bennett, two brothers and three sisters were all raised around the sport and all but one have competed.

“My family’s been a huge support for me,” Bennett said. “I swear my mom is my biggest fan. They’ve always been a great support group of mine to get from points A to B throughout the summer.”

That family also consists of his traveling posse, a foursome of bareback riders who go by the moniker “Flow Riders,” primarily because of their long hair. That group also includes NFR qualifier R.C. Landingham of Pendleton, who has finished 16th each of the past two seasons; Clint Laye of Cadogan, Alberta, among the top 25 in 2013-14; and J.R. Vezain of Cowley, Wyo., a three-time NFR qualifier sitting 10th in the world standings.

“The main reason we started growing our hair was to honor R.C.’s mom, Wendy Stiver, when she started losing her hair while battling cancer,” Bennett said. “She is such a strong woman, and it goes for anyone out there who battles cancer. She’s been an inspiration for all of us. We started growing our hair for her this year.”

Moments like that help the cowboy stay grounded. He realizes he has blessings and talent, and he plans to take advantage of both. He has an amazing support system, which also includes other cowboys.

“The first year I made the finals, Kaycee told me to just keep positive,” he said of Kaycee Feild, a seven-time NFR qualifier and the reigning three-time world champion bareback rider from Spanish Fork, Utah. “I’ve just taken that with me every year. If something didn’t go right, I just let it go and started to focus on the next one.

“That’s what I’m going to do this year. I feel healthier and stronger than I’ve ever felt. I have a good workout routine to hopefully better me. I’m going to just go in there with goals and a winning mindset, because I really want to win that rodeo.”

Doing so would mean finishing with the best 10-ride aggregate score. Feild has done that each of the past three seasons, which is a key reason he won those world championship gold buckles. It’s a great lesson for Bennett, who could add a $48,732 bonus if he were to win the NFR average.

“Anything can happen either way in Las Vegas,” Bennett said. “I’ve watch guys go in and struggle. Last year Kaycee struggled the first two rounds, then all of the sudden, he just stepped up and went hotter than a firecracker.

“To me, that is the biggest lesson. Even if you have a few bad rounds, you can still come back and do well. The last few years I started stronger than I finished, and this year my goal is to finish stronger than I start.”

With that goal in place, Bennett has his eyes set on the top prize in the game: The gold buckle.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Durfey heading to his 7th NFR

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 12:13

LAS VEGAS – If seven is a lucky number, Tyson Durfey is counting his blessings.

Next week, Durfey will compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the seventh time. It’s just another major step in an already-amazing 11-year tie-down roping career, which includes three Canadian titles, a Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo championship and a $100,000 payday this past March for winning tie-down roping at RFD-TV’s The American.

Over his previous six trips to Las Vegas, the Missouri-born cowboy has had a mixed bag of results. He’s seen great success and struggled. Since his first qualification in 2007, Durfey has missed the finale just once; that was two seasons ago when he finished 18th in the world standings – only the top 15 cowboys at the end of the regular season make the trip to Las Vegas.

Tyson Durfey

Tyson Durfey

“My dad was a cowboy, my grandfather was a cowboy and my brothers were cowboys,” said Durfey, the youngest son of Roy Durfey, a man well known as an elite trainer of tie-down ropers and calf-roping horses. “All I wanted was to be a cowboy.”

He’s been that way since he was a young man growing up on his father’s place near Savannah, Mo. That’s where he was taught the lessons of being a true rodeo hand. It’s what’s carried him through his 31 years, both as a talented roper and as a man.

“One thing I still hold onto today is that when I give someone my word, that’s as good as anything I can give them and that I will stand by it,” he said.

That’s a vital point to being a cowboy, but so is competing at a high level.

At 23, Durfey became the first American-born contestant to win a Canadian Professional Rodeo Association title. That came in 2006. He followed that with two other Canadian titles, one in 2008, the last in 2011. Earlier that season, he won the national title for the first time.

“It felt good to win the national championship and the Canadian national championship” in the same year, he said.

He also has made adjustments to his life and his livelihood, which has made a significant difference in how he approaches the work of being a professional rodeo cowboy.

“When I was younger, I’d let that pressure get to me more,” said Durfey, who has sponsorship agreements with Next IT Corp., Zoetis Animal Health, Pro Vision Equine Digital Surveillance, Cinch, Corral Boots, Logan Coach Horse Trailers, Willbros Group Inc., Swift Transportation, HR Workplace Services, Priefert and Silver Lining Herbs. “As I’ve gotten older, I guess I’ve gotten more focused and more confident. Every win gives you a little bit more confidence. If you can take every win, you can just build your confidence over time.

“I rely on what my capabilities are. I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I know what I’m capable of. If I’m able to stay focused, stay relaxed and rope, the winning takes care of itself.”

Each year on the rodeo trail means another level of experience he carries with him. These days, he also shares his life with his wife of one year, Australian-born country singer Shea Fisher. They live on a place near Weatherford, Texas, when she’s not singing and when he’s not on the rodeo trail.

During his first qualification to the NFR in 2007, he had a much different approach to the game than he does now. The adjustments have made a world of difference.

“I just wanted to win and beat them, but at the end of the day, it boils down to being the best person you can be and doing the best you can do every time,” Durfey said. “I was more focused on trying to win than I was at trying to be the best I could be at the rodeo.”

It’s working rather well.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Armes is ready for the NFR

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 11:02

PONDER, Texas – Bray Armes isn’t much of a gambler, but he loves Las Vegas.

He returns to the City of Lights next week with his third qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. This is a business trip for the steer wrestler from Ponder, and he takes care of business quite well in the Nevada desert.

In 2012-13, Armes has earned more than $288,500 grappling bovines – he pocketed $185,755 of that in Las Vegas over 20 December nights. Now he goes into ProRodeo’s premier event sixth in the world standings. He trails leader Trevor Knowles by $22,500, but that gap can be closed in a hurry at the NFR, where go-round winners earn $19,000 each night.

Bray Armes

Bray Armes

“My whole thought is that I’m going into the finals in the best position I’ve ever gone in,” said Armes, who grew up in the northern-most area of the Texas Panhandle near Gruver. “I’ve got just as good of a shot as anybody to go in there and win the gold buckle. I’m going to try to win as many rounds as I can and see where it falls in the end.”

Last December, he downed 10 steers in a cumulative time of 44.8 seconds to win the coveted NFR average championship – it is the second greatest accomplishment in the game, only to be outdone by the world championship.

To say he likes the set up at the Thomas & Mack Center would be a bit of an understatement.

“I like a fast start,” he said. “I’ve always seemed to do pretty good at quick starts, and it’s definitely as fast as anywhere we go. I’ve been blessed to ride good horses out there every year, and I’ve had great hazers.

“Everything’s been lined up good for me.”

It’s been worth the wait. Armes focused on competing sparingly early in his career, then stepped away from the game in 2009-11. When he returned in 2012, he did so with a goal of being one of the best in the game. He’s been one of the elite ever since. He finished the 2014 regular season with more than $69,000.

He won the Wrangler Champions Challenge in Kennewick, Wash., and also earned at least a share of the title at Jackson, Miss.; Lake Charles, La.; Armstrong, B.C.; and Dodge City, Kan.

“Dodge City is always one I’ve wanted to win, and I’ve had the opportunity to win it before,” said Armes, a four-time College National Finals Rodeo qualifier while attending Howard County Junior College in Big Spring, Texas, and Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. “That was pretty awesome to get the win at it.”

It was the perfect time of year. He had just enjoyed his family being on the rodeo trail for two weeks. As a rodeo cowboy who spends much of his time away from home, those few days with his wife, Neelley, daughter, Breely, and son, Drake, were priceless. In fact, Breely was still with him when he won the title in western Kansas.

“My family came out with me more than they ever have, and Breely stayed with me another week because she had never done that by herself before,” he said. “My family means the world to me. They take care of everything at home. A smile or anything, just to see them, it tends to bring you back. When you’re down, they can always pick you back up.

“All it takes is a little smile from them, and you seem to forget about everything else.”

In fact, that sentiment will bring some big changes for the Armeses in 2015.

“When I got home, I told them I wasn’t ready to quit, but I was willing to do that or they needed to make the decision to go with me all year,” he said. “I don’t want to miss the kids growing up. We’re all so close. They pretty much build me up all the time and keep me happy. The hardest part of what I do is being away from them, and I’m ready to be with them every day instead of away from them.”

That’s bound to make everything better for next year, but Armes has no other complaints about his 2014 season. He leaned on hazer Sean Mulligan, a four-time NFR qualifier from Coleman, Okla., and on his horse, Ote, a lightning quick palomino gelding.

He’ll do so in Las Vegas.

“They don’t make them any better than Sean Mulligan,” Armes said. “When I back in the box, I’ve got to worry about one thing, and that’s bulldogging. Ote’s going to work great every time, and Sean’s going to have the steers right there where I need them every time. Sean’s hard to beat because he has the steers picked up for you every time.

“I’m blessed to have Ote, because he gives me a chance to win every time. If I don’t win, it’s usually pilot error. He scores great and gives me everything he’s got ever time. There’s not a lot of them out there that do that.”

With that kind of team in his corner, Armes is coming out swinging when the 10-round NFR slugfest begins Dec. 4. He has high goals – “I want to wear them both, the average buckle and the gold buckle,” he said – and he has the right frame of mind to do it.

“Winning the gold buckle means everything to us; it’s why we do what we do,” he said. “It’s the highest point that we can get to in our careers. To be able to win the world title would be something special.”

It would be a dream come true.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Irwin ready for business in Vegas

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 18:47

ROBERTSDALE, Ala. – Each time steer wrestler Kyle Irwin looks down the lane at a bowling alley, he sees 10 pens lined up in the shape of a triangle.

The main purpose, as always, is to knock down all the pens. In order to make it happen, though, Irwin’s focus is on one individual sliver of waxed wood. If he hits that mark just right, he knows a strike is likely.

That’s the same philosophy Irwin is using a she approaches his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s premier championship set for Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas.

“My goal at the NFR is to make money, not necessarily win the world title,” said Irwin, 24, of Robertsdale. “If I make the money, I’ll win the world. My job is to not mess up. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

Kyle Irwin

Kyle Irwin

“All I can do is go as fast as I can with the steer I have each night. It’s important that I don’t leave any money on the table. If the cards weren’t in there to win the average or the world, that’s fine, but I want to have maxed out on every steer I have.”

That’s a solid outlook for the young cowboy, who will wrap up the best season of his career over 10 December nights in the City of Lights. In 2014, Irwin earned $59,736, finishing the regular season 10th in the world standings. Only the top 15 contestants in each event earn the opportunity to compete for the biggest pay in the sport in Las Vegas.

“Going to the NFR is something that every guy in my position, every kid that’s 11 years old, dreams about,” he said. “I’m very grateful and very proud to be going.”

Irwin’s NFR marks the first time in eight years that an Alabaman has qualified. The last was heeler Cole Bigbee. Before that, bull rider Tyler Fowler qualified in 2000 and ’01, while steer wrestler Victor Deck qualified in 1996-97. As the state’s only representative in Las Vegas, he will carry the flag each night during the NFR’s opening ceremonies.

“That flag’s going to have some dust on it; it’s hasn’t been used since 2006,” Irwin said. “I hope they’ll play ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ every night I back in the box. It’s so cool getting to represent the state.”

He also is representing his family, from his dad, Ken Irwin, to his mom, Ruthie Campbell, to four sisters, Karissa, Brittany, Laney and Raylen. He also carries a flag for a number of top-notch steer-wrestling cousins and dear friends, all of whom who have been beneficial in Kyle Irwin’s bulldogging career.

“My immediate family grew up farming, working cattle, cowboying,” he said. “The atmosphere was there for me. I played sports from elementary school … baseball and football every year. When I was 11 years old, I started chute-dogging and junior rodeoing.”

Chute-dogging is the precursor to steer wrestling. Instead of jumping off a sprinting horse onto a running steer, chute-doggers get ahold of the steer right out of the timed-event chute. It allows them to learn the proper techniques.

“When I was 13, an eighth-grader, I was getting ready to start jumping steers in high school rodeo,” he said. “My cousin, Bo Campbell, owns a rodeo company and is a big-time bulldogging fanatic. He keeps Mexican cattle in his pasture.

“My cousins had me running steers all day every day. I roped calves and team roped, too, but we made sure we bulldogged first.”

As he progressed, the young cowboy had a distinct focus, which carried him to scholarship opportunities – first at Western Oklahoma College in Altus, then to Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva.

“The competition and watching my buddies and my older cousins drive and succeed kept the passion there,” Irwin said. “Then I realized my talent with it. It was all a goal and a dream. I knew they bulldogged in Oklahoma, so that’s where I went. I knew I wanted to go to Oklahoma. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity in Alabama that I did in Oklahoma.”

He did pretty well, too. In high school, he won the Alabama High School Rodeo Association twice and was the runner-up once. Irwin was a four-time qualifier to the College National Finals Rodeo, finishing as the reserve champion in 2011. In fact, his stay in Oklahoma became an amazing starting point to his pro career.

Each of the past two seasons, he has finished as the reserve year-end champion in the Prairie Circuit – both times, as it worked out, he finished just behind Stockton Graves, Irwin’s coach at Northwestern. In 2014, Irwin won the average title at the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, securing his second straight qualification to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, where he will defend his national title.

“All year, I’ve said the key to my season was winning the Ram National Circuit Finals,” he said of the April victory. “I wasn’t going to rodeo unless I did very well there. It unfolded perfectly, winning $10,000 cash and a voucher for a Ram truck.

“It gave me the confidence I needed. I really believed in what I was doing this time. The maturity I gained from the last two years of rodeoing helped me tremendously, and it all worked out this year.”

When he arrives in Las Vegas, Irwin will enlist the help of fellow bulldogger Tyler Pearson, a 2013 NFR qualifier from Louisville, Miss. Pearson will serve as Irwin’s hazer, while Irwin also will ride Pearson’s great horse, Sketch.

“I don’t have any worries as far as horsepower or hazing,” said Irwin, who has sponsorship support from Cinch, Black and Blue Quarter Horses and Southwest Trailers. “When I back in there every night, all I will have to worry about is Kyle; that’s enough.”

That’s taking care of business. Irwin knows, just as in bowling, he needs to keep his focus on the things closest to him. If he does that, the big prize will be waiting for him soon enough.

“In my career, I’d like to win the world, and I’d like to win the average at the finals,” he said. “I’d like to make my family’s life a little bit easier. I’d like to set myself up that when I’m done, I can look back one day and say, ‘My rodeoing gave me this.’ ”

Irwin is well on his way.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

New Mexicans on the national stage

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 17:09

LAS VEGAS – Between them, Clint Cooper, Jim Ross Cooper and Taos Muncy make up 17 qualifications to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and two world championships.

They also serve as a great reminder of the outstanding talent that was raised on rodeo in New Mexico. Not only are they some of the best homegrown cowboys New Mexico has to offer, they’re three of the greatest cowboys in the game and all are “Riding for the Brand” for the Tate Branch Auto Group.

ClintCooper“Tate Branch has been huge for me in my rodeo career,” said Clint Cooper, a tie-down roper raised in Lovington. “This is how I make a living, and he supports me so much. Our relationship is great. What he gives back, not only to the community there in Lea County, but to the sport of rodeo and to the high school kids is just incredible.

“I’m just amazed at how much Tate Branch does for the community and for rodeo.”

The Tate Branch Auto Group has dealerships in the southeastern New Mexico communities of Artesia, Carlsbad and Hobbs, the latter of which is in Lea County, the home turf for both Coopers. While Clint grew up in Lovington, Jim Ross was born and raised near Monument.

Jim Ross Cooper

Jim Ross Cooper

Both come from a storied rodeo family: Clint is the son of Roy Cooper, an eight time world champion and ProRodeo Hall of Famer; Jim Ross is the son of Jimmie Cooper, a three-time titlist and hall-of-fame inductee. The Cooper clan has exceptional New Mexico rodeo roots.

“New Mexico is where I grew up,” said Clint Cooper, a five-time NFR qualifier now living in Decatur, Texas. “That’s where I learned to rope with my dad and my grandpa, Tuffy. Being part of New Mexico with Tate Branch means everything to me. Lea County is my roots.”

Those are the roots for Jim Ross Cooper, a five-time NFR qualifier as a header. He earned his first trip to the NFR in 2007 with his twin brother, Jake. He has since returned with heelers Brandon Beers (2011, 2013 and 2014) and Charly Crawford (2012).

Jim Ross Cooper and Beers go to Las Vegas ranked seventh in the world standings; it’s the highest ranking prior to the NFR in their history together.

Taos Muncy

Taos Muncy

Clint Cooper finished the regular season 10th in the world standings, while Muncy, a two-time world champion from Corona, N.M., is the No. 1 saddle bronc rider in the game. He owns gold buckles he earned in 2007 and 2011.

“It’s hard to believe this is my seventh time,” said Muncy, who, in the first year he won the world title, became just the third cowboy in the history of the game to have won the college title and the gold buckle in the same event the same calendar year; Muncy, as a sophomore at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, won the bronc riding title at the College National Finals Rodeo that June.

“It seems like I was just going to the first one the other day. I love what I get to do. It doesn’t matter how many times you get to go, it’s always special going to the NFR.”

It also is special that Muncy carries the New Mexico flag into the Thomas & Mack Center during the grand opening.

“It’s a real big deal that I get to represent New Mexico,” he said. “I get to see all parts of the world getting to rodeo, but I’m always thankful to come back here to home.”

That home includes a touch of Tate Branch Auto Group.

“I was real fortunate to meet Tate and his wife,” Muncy said. “They show their support year round. We really haven’t had that in New Mexico in the last few years. I’m glad they’re recognizing the sport of rodeo.”

Tate Branch-logo

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Laughlin primed, ready for the NFR

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 15:53

PUEBLO, Colo. – As her season progressed, Christine Laughlin noticed a distinct pattern in reference to her goals.

“When I got started this year, I just wanted to make the finals,” said Laughlin, a barrel racer from Pueblo. “Then when I got into the top 10, I wanted to stay in the top 10. My goals kept going up as the year went along.”

Next week she will set forth on a new path in her career, chasing the ProRodeo world championship during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s premier event that takes place Dec. 4-13 in Las Vegas. Through the 2014 season, Laughlin earned more than $93,000 and will begin the 10-round finale No. 8 in the world standings.

Christine Laughlin

Christine Laughlin

Once she arrives in the Nevada desert, she will race her talented horse, Guys Six Pack To Go, around the cloverleaf pattern while chasing the biggest pay in the game. Each night, contestants will battle for the $19,000 payday that comes with winning a go-round. She’ll have 10 opportunities for that.

“I’m excited and really looking forward to it,” she said.

She should. She has something special in Six Pack, a 9-year-old dapple gray gelding owned by Kathleen Collier of Hereford, Texas. Now Laughlin and Six Pack will run on ProRodeo’s biggest stage while part of an elite field of the best barrel racing tandems in the game.

“I’ve had him for two and a half years,” she said of the gelding. The first year was kind of tough getting him to where he is now. He liked to hit barrels. He was fast and smart, and he just hit barrels.

“I hit a lot of barrels that first year, but we just kept working at it.”

The work has paid off very well in 2014. She started the campaign off well, earning good money in February at San Antonio. She followed that with six event titles: Reno, Nev.; Salinas, Calif.; Dodge City, Kan.; Castle Rock, Colo.; Kennewick, Wash.; and Ellensburg, Wash. It’s been a magical ride.

“San Antonio really got me started through the winter,” said Laughlin, who has sponsorship support from Arrow Electric, Top of Texas Inc., Professional Choice, Cactus Saddlry, Western Dove and Elite Equine Veterinary Services. “I won almost $10,000. That got me excited and got me going. I really had just a few checks the rest of the winter. In the springtime, I went out to California and won a little bit. Once I got to Reno (in June) and won Reno, everything started clicking.

“Six Pack starting becoming more consistent. We had two or three runs of beating the field by hundredths of a second.”

She and her talented horse will need to be consistent in Las Vegas, but she has a lot of faith in her partner. That comes from the work they’ve done together in and out of the arena, but it’s nothing new for Laughlin, who was just a toddler the first time she was horseback.

“My mom never really rode, but she was a rodeo mom the secretary,” she said. “My dad rode. He competed when we were little. He never went down the road; he always had a full time job out at the steel mill. We’ve always had horses and raised our horses.”

Laughlin was raised in southern Colorado, one of two daughters to Ron and Patty Laughlin. She and her sister, Tracy Paulsen, attended college on rodeo scholarships – Christine Laughlin was part of the rodeo program at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. At each level of competition, she knew the support system she had at home.

“My family means a great deal to me,” she said. “If I didn’t have them, I don’t know how things would be going. I wouldn’t have my place. I live just 10 miles down the road from them. When I’m gone, they check on the place and take care of it for me.

“My dad shoes my horses for me when I get home. He did go with me through the winter, and when I’m by myself, he tries to go.”

That helps tremendously. Laughlin knows anyone competing in rodeo at a high level needs plenty of extra players on the team, whether they’re on the rodeo trail with her or tending to business at home.

“I don’t know what I’d do without my parents and my neighbors, Kevin and Christy Milder,” Laughlin said. “They take care of stuff for me when I’m gone, too.”

With business covered in Colorado, she will turn her attention to the City of Lights, where she hopes to parlay her first NFR qualification into a dream season. As her goals have evolved, she realizes she is within reach of that elusive world championship; in rodeo, where dollars equal points, the cowgirl with the most money won at the conclusion of the year earns the coveted gold buckle.

“I hope I end up with several of them,” Laughlin said. “I think Six Pack is as good as any of the horses that are going to be there. Winning the title is important. I think that’s what you work all year for. I’ve been running with them all year, so there’s no reason he can’t run with them there.”

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

UBHA calls its finale a success

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 12:09

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Two words adequately describe the inaugural season of the United Bucking Horse Association: Resounding success.

The organization concluded its first campaign with the UBHA World Finals, which took place Nov. 14 in Rapid City. Fifty of the top young bucking horses in North American qualified for the championship in two age divisions: 2- and 3-year-olds. It was the perfect way to wrap up an amazing year.

UBHA-logo1“I think our world finals went better than we ever could have imagined,” said Guy French, the UBHA’s executive director. “The growth and exposure we’ve been able to get is incredible.”

So was the competition. Three horses earned 91-point markings, the top scores in the finale: French’s Wazzup and Jim Lawrence’s bay mare each claimed the prize in the 3-year-old division, while Joe Waln’s sorrel gelding won the 2-year-old class. The young animals are bucked under a mechanical dummy instead of a rider to allow the horses the opportunity to develop with age.

“That mare is out of one of our top producing mares we use in bareback, Up In Smoke,” said Lawrence, a stock contractor from Kennedy, Saskatchewan. “It’s a real honor to be able to compete at a North American level and come out on top.”

Lawrence has made a living raising bucking horses. He loves the idea of the UBHA.

“For someone like me who’s already in the business, we can take some of the younger stock that we’re raising anyway and establish them a little sooner in their lives,” he said. “By the time they get into the full rodeo circle, they’ve already built a name and reputation.”

French has been touting Wazzup all season. He knew there was something special in the colt, and the proof has come through the season.

“He’s been an awesome colt, and I’ve never seen one like him,” French said. He just loves to buck. I’m proud to own him. The future that he’s going to have is just unbelievable. Hopefully he’ll go onto the big leagues and be a big name in the PRCA.”

That also may be the future for Waln’s gelding, who is carrying on a family tradition as a stock contractor whose ranch is near Martin, S.D.

“This means the world to us,” Waln said. “It’s a great promotional tool, something you can hang your hat on as a horse man and a horse breeder.

“The UBHA is an outlet to buck these horses earlier on and see what I had. This is a great opportunity to do that and promote these horses.”

That’s why so many horse owners are excited about the future of the organization. They see great potential, not only with their own young horses but also with the opportunity to develop the next great line of rodeo bucking animals.

United Bucking Horse Association World Finals
Nov. 14, 2014
3-year-old class
: (horse, owner, score) 1. (tie) Wazzup, Guy French, and bay mare, Jim Lawrence, 91 points; 3. Snow Bear, Ron Solomon, 84.5; 4. Black mare, Lance Lesmeister, 84; 5. Surprise, MX Bar Ranch, 81; 6. Betty Boop, Kenny Andrews, 80.5; 7. Unnamed, Hat Brand, 80; 8. (tie) Clyde, Steve Stone, Hallelujah, Skip and Elaine Jones, and Shadow, Justin Twogood, 78.5.

2-year-old class: 1. BF SOB, Joe Waln, 91 points; 2. Martin, Ken RealBird, 86.5; 3. Oscar, Wes Janis, 81; 4. 4. Xotic Lady, Guy French, 80.5; 5. Dream Girl, Joe Waln, 78; 6. Brown mare, Ron Solomon, 77; 7. Buckskin filly, Darcy Hollingsworth, 76; 8. (tie) Black filly, Jim Lawrence, and Jasmine, Ken RealBird, 74.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Together again

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 17:39
Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith announced their return to a team roping partnership Monday through a video from Spin to Win Magazine. You can watch the announcement, along with the word about an upcoming video, by clicking HERE. (SCREEN CAPTURE FROM SPIN TO WIN MAGAZINE'S VIDEO POST)

Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith announced their return to a team roping partnership Monday through a video from Spin to Win Magazine. You can watch the announcement, along with the word about an upcoming video, by clicking HERE. (SCREEN CAPTURE FROM SPIN TO WIN MAGAZINE’S VIDEO POST)

With the help of Spin to Win Magazine, Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith on Monday announced they will resume their partnership for the 2015 season.

The cowboys won the team roping world titles together in 2010; it is Brazile’s only team roping gold buckle in a storied career. Smith also won the heeling world championship with then-partner Clay Tryan.

The duo roped together for seven years, then split for 2014. Both return to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in a few weeks with their 2014 partners: Brazile with heeler Travis Graves and Smith with header Kaleb Driggers.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

A record-breaking performance … again

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 23:50
Trevor Brazile ropes on the final night of the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping. He won the average and the world standings, pocketing $43,858 in NFSR money to finish the season with $112,692. That is a PRCA record for single year earnings in steer roping. His 114.1-second cumulative time on 10 runs also set a record, bettering the mark set by Rocky Patterson in 2001. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)

Trevor Brazile ropes on the final night of the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping. He won the average and the world standings, pocketing $43,858 in NFSR money to finish the season with $112,692. That is a PRCA record for single year earnings in steer roping. His 114.1-second cumulative time on 10 runs also set a record, bettering the mark set by Rocky Patterson in 2001. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)

Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping
Kansas Star Arena Arena
Nov. 7-8, 2014

First round: 1. Trevor Brazile, 9.8 seconds, $5,331; 2. Vin Fisher Jr., 10.0, $4,281; 3. Jason Evans, 10.2, $3,231; 4. Rocky Patterson, 11.0, $2,181; 5. Scott Snedecor, 11.1, $1,131.

Second round: 1. Scott Snedecor, 9.1 seconds, $5,331; 2. Trevor Brazile, 9.9, $4,281; 3. J.P. Wickett, 10.3, $3,231; 4. Tony Reina, 10.6, $2,181; 5. Jason Evans, 11.3, $1,131. Average leaders: 1. Trevor Brazile, 19.7 seconds on two runs; 2. Scott Snedecor, 20.2; 3. Jason Evans, 21.5; 4. Mike Chase, 22.9; 5. J.P. Wickett, 23.1.

Third round: 1. Scott Snedecor, 11.0 seconds, $5,331; 2. Trevor Brazile, 11.5, $4,281; 3. Vin Fisher Jr., 11.6, $3,231; 4. Brodie Poppino, 12.7, $2,181; 5. Jess Tierney, 13.4, $1,131. Average leaders: 1. (tie) Trevor Brazile and Scott Snedecor, 31.2 seconds on three runs; 3. Jess Tierney, 37.3; 4. Jason Evans, 37.5; 5. Troy Tillard, 38.6.

Fourth round: 1. Jason Evans, 9.5 seconds, $5,331; 2. (tie) Mike Chase and J.P. Wickett, 10.3, $3,756 each; 4. Rocky Patterson, 11.1, $2,181; 5. Jess Tierney, 11.3, $1,131. Average leaders: 1. Trevor Brazile, 43.9 seconds on four runs; 2. Jason Evans, 47.0; 3. Jess Tierney, 48.6; 4. J.P. Wickett, 49.8; 5. Mike Chase, 51.5.

Fifth round: 1. Mike Chase, 10.2 seconds, $5,331; 2. Trevor Brazile, 10.3, $4,281; 3. Brodie Poppino, 10.7, $3,231; 4. (tie) J.P. Wickett and Troy Tillard, 10.8, $1,656 each. Average leaders: 1. Trevor Brazile, 54.2 seconds on five runs; 2. J.P. Wickett, 60.6; 3. Mike Chase, 61.7; 4. Jason Evans, 63.5; 5. Jess Tierney, 67.5.

Sixth round: 1. Brady Garten, 9.5 seconds, $5,331; 2. Trevor Brazile, 9.6, $4,281; 3. Troy Tillard, 10.1, $3,231; 4. J.P. Wickett, 10.7, $2,181; 5. Cody Lee, 10.8, $1,131. Average leaders: 1. Trevor Brazile, 63.8 seconds on six runs; 2. J.P. Wickett, 71.3; 3. Mike Chase, 74.9; 4. Jason Evans, 77.0; 5. 78.3.

Seventh round: 1. Brady Garten, 9.5 seconds; 2. Trevor Brazile, 11.2, $4,281; 3. Tony Reina, 11.7, $3,231; 4. Jess Tierney, 12.5, $2,181; 5. J.P. Wickett, 14.4, $1,131. Average leaders: 1. Trevor Brazile, 75.0 seconds on seven runs; 2. J.P. Wickett, 85.7; 3. Jason Evans, 97.3; 4. Tony Reina, 100.5; 5. Mike Chase, 74.9 seconds on six runs.

Eighth round: 1. Brady Garten, 9.8 seconds, $5,331; 2. Rocky Patterson, 10.8, $4,281; 3. Chance Kelton, 10.9, $3,231; 4. Cody Lee, 12.1, $2,181; 5. (tie) Mike Chase and Brodie Poppino, 12.4, $565 each. Average leaders: 1. Trevor Brazile, 89.5 seconds on eight runs; 2. J.P. Wickett, 99.4; 3. Tony Reina, 114.4; 4. Mike Chase, 87.3 seconds on seven runs; 5. Chance Kelton, 96.0.

Ninth round: 1. Scott Snedecor, 9.9 seconds, $5,331; 2. Jason Evans, 10.1, $4,281; 3. Cody Lee, 10.8, $3,231; 4. J.P. Wickett, 10.9, $2,181; 5. Chance Kelton, 11.3, $1,131. Average leaders: 1. Trevor Brazile, 103.6 seconds on nine runs; 2. J.P. Wickett, 110.3; 3. Tony Reina, 133.9; 4. Chance Kelton, 107.3 seconds on nine runs; 5. Jason Evans, 107.4.

Tenth round: 1. Vin Fisher Jr., 9.6 seconds, $5,331; 2. Chet Herren, 9.7, $4,281; 3. Brady Garten, 9.9, $3,231; 4. Ricky Patterson, 10.2, $2,181; 5. Trevor Brazile, 10.5, $1,131. Average: 1. Trevor Brazile, 114.1 seconds on 10 runs, $15,992; 2. J.P. Wickett, 126.3, $12,842; 3. Chance Kelton, 120.4 seconds on nine runs, $9,692; 4. Jason Evans, 121.3, $6,542; 5. Tony Reina, 133.9, $3,392.

Total NFSR money: 1. Trevor Brazile, $43,858; 2. $26,977; 3. Jason Evans, $20,515; 4. Brady Garten, $19,223; 5. Scott Snedecor, $17,123.

Final world standings: 1. Trevor Brazile, $112,692; 2. Chet Herren, $72,191; 3. J.P. Wickett, $60,017; 4. Jess Tierney, $58,003; 5. Vin Fisher Jr., $56,341; 6. Jason Evans, $55,739; 7. Cody Lee, $51,957; 8. Brady Garten, $41,766; 9. Chance Kelton, $51,517; 10. Scott Snedecor, $48,348; 11. Rocky Patterson, $43,152; 12. Mike Chase, $42,932; 13. Tony Reina, $41,969; 14. Brodie Poppino, $26,170; 15. Troy Tillard, $33,155.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

NFSR-10th Round

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 23:25
Vin Fisher Jr.

Vin Fisher Jr.

Tenth round: 1. Vin Fisher Jr., 9.6 seconds, $5,331; 2. Chet Herren, 9.7, $4,281; 3. Brady Garten, 9.9, $3,231; 4. Ricky Patterson, 10.2, $2,181; 5. Trevor Brazile, 10.5, $1,131. Average: 1. Trevor Brazile, 114.1 seconds on 10 runs, $15,992; 2. J.P. Wickett, 126.3, $12,842; 3. Chance Kelton, 120.4 seconds on nine runs, $9,692; 4. Jason Evans, 121.3, $6,542; 5. Tony Reina, 133.9, $3,392.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

NFSR-Ninth Round

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 22:42
Scott Snedecor

Scott Snedecor

Ninth round: 1. Scott Snedecor, 9.9 seconds, $5,331; 2. Jason Evans, 10.1, $4,281; 3. Cody Lee, 10.8, $3,231; 4. J.P. Wickett, 10.9, $2,181; 5. Chance Kelton, 11.3, $1,131. Average leaders: 1. Trevor Brazile, 103.6 seconds on nine runs; 2. J.P. Wickett, 110.3; 3. Tony Reina, 133.9; 4. Chance Kelton, 107.3 seconds on nine runs; 5. Jason Evans, 107.4.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

Brazile clinches Gold Buckle No. 20

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 22:21
Trevor Brazile clinched his fifth steer roping and 20th world championship overall during the seventh go-round of the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping on Saturday night at the Kansas Star Arena. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)

Trevor Brazile clinched his fifth steer roping and 20th world championship overall during the seventh go-round of the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping on Saturday night at the Kansas Star Arena. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)

Categories: Twisted Rodeo

NFSR-Eighth Round

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 22:15
Brady Garten

Brady Garten

Eighth round: 1. Brady Garten, 9.8 seconds, $5,331; 2. Rocky Patterson, 10.8, $4,281; 3. Chance Kelton, 10.9, $3,231; 4. Cody Lee, 12.1, $2,181; 5. (tie) Mike Chase and Brodie Poppino, 12.4, $565 each. Average leaders: 1. Trevor Brazile, 89.5 seconds on eight runs; 2. J.P. Wickett, 99.4; 3. Tony Reina, 114.4; 4. Mike Chase, 87.3 seconds on seven runs; 5. Chance Kelton, 96.0.

Categories: Twisted Rodeo
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